Time to end cage rearing of ‘game’ birds

Welsh Government has finally announced a review of the Code of Practice on the Rearing of Gamebirds for Sporting Purposes. The League has been pressing for this review for a number of years and has tried to bring the issue to the fore by asking question after question to Ministers in the Senedd.  

Pheasants and Partridges are bred in cramped, inhumane cages, and transferred to intensive rearing sheds, with millions being released into the UK countryside. It is not something often spoken about by the shooting industry, as it would destroy the “wholesome countryside activity” image. We know better. Shooting is nothing more than factory farmed birds, destined to be shot painfully out of the sky for sport.

The current Code was first brought in back in 2011 and overturned a short-lived prior version which had introduced a minimum space requirement for the birds. The current Code contains no such requirement, and this is one of its weaknesses. The current Code also allows the use of raised laying cages which we know cause stress and harm to the birds. Wales is home to a number of game farms, including Europe’s largest game hatchery – Bettws Hall in Powys – where over 1.7 million partridge and pheasant chicks and poults are reared per year. The review of the Code of Practice is an important opportunity to highlight vital concerns about the welfare of these birds, intensively bred and reared for the sole purpose of sport shooting. Our colleagues at Animal Aid have found time and time again – and as recently as May 2019 – serious welfare breaches including cannibalized birds at award-winning, British Game Alliance member (BGA), Bettws Hall.

We met with the Welsh officials who are leading the review and stressed the need for a ban on cruel raised laying cages and for more space for the birds overall. We also highlighted the strength of public opinion in Wales, as shown via YouGov polling last year, which is clearly against shooting for sport and in favour of better welfare protections for ‘game’ bird welfare, including an end to cages. Finally, we told officials that industry self-regulation cannot be relied on to be sufficient. The industry-led British Game Alliance is being portrayed by the shooting groups as a panacea to the gamebird welfare problems that are inherent to the industry, but we know from experience elsewhere e.g. greyhound racing, that industry self-regulation lacks any transparency and does not deliver on welfare for the animals. Without strong, statutory protections backed up by a regular and unannounced inspection regime the welfare of the birds will remain low. We don’t allow self-regulation and insist on routine statutory inspections for other farmed animals so why should we allow less for captively bred gamebirds?

We don’t know yet whether a full public consultation will be run as part of the review. We will press officials for this to happen, but they are not obliged to do so and may decide that stakeholder engagement fulfils the requirement of the Act. Either way, we hope that the Code review brings some key changes for gamebirds in Wales. We have waited long enough, and they have suffered long enough.

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